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Cheating or Resourceful?

CheatingWill Richardson has been sharing his experiences in the Monterey area of California, where he was speaking at the Internet @ Schools West conference. Yesterday, he reported a story that came out of one of his presentations.

But here is the moment that has my stomach roiling (aside from the nasty “snack” the airline gave out): at the end of my presentation, a woman in the audience related the problem with blogs at her school. “The kids are posting questions and answers to tests in between periods so kids later in the day know what’s coming. What do we do about that?” My first response was “sounds pretty inventive to me.” And I know that some people took that as being flip. But I was being serious. What a great use of the technology, not from an ethical sense, certainly, but from a collaboration and information sense. This is the new reality of a Read/Write world where knowledge is accessible, number one, and knowledge is shared instead of being kept closeted, number two. These kids are finding ways to share the information they need to be successful at what they are doing. Isn’t that something we should cheer? (Am I in trouble yet?)

Read the full post here

Here is the comment that I posted to Will blog:

An uncle of mine recently wrote a book about my family. Even though we go back nine generations on this continent, it’s a short book, because there isn’t that much to tell. One thing that fascinated me, though, was that my family valued education. My grandfather earned a degree in the Classics, driving himself to classes at the University of North Carolina in a horse drawn carriage. His brother earned a degree in engineering at North Carolina State University.

However, when they returned to rural Lincoln County North Carolina, there were no newspapers nor magazines, and very few books available to them. Being educated, at that time, meant having knowledge permanently stored in their brains, and the act of educating was to cause knowledge to enter their brains and stay there.

Today, we are surrounded by information and knowledge. Media is available any time and any where. Not only that, but the information is constantly changing — and here is the true crime that we commit when we inflict industrial notions of education on information-driven youngsters. We imply, in the way that we teach and assess, that what they are learning is omni-important and absolute, and that it will serve them the rest of their lives; when we know, as do they, that the answers are constantly changing.

If I were still teaching history, I’d take my students into the library for each test and say, “Answer my questions — with the knowledge you can find here.”

I want to add something here, lest someone thinks that I’m condoning cheating. We must refine our definitions of cheating in the technology-rich, information-driven world. We must also redefine ethics, teaching, learning, curriculum, literacy, and what it means to be educated. The playing field has changed, and so too must the rules.

No child should be rewarded for taking what they did not earn. However, the greater crime occurs, when we prevent our children from resorting to learning avenues that are perfectly relevant to today’s information environment, just because it looks like cheating to us.

Children will be resourceful in achieving the goals that we set for them, and this is what we should teach. How do we steer that resourcefulness into positive avenues — and perhaps the most important thing is, where will we get the time to figure all of this out?

2¢ worth…


  • http://topics.typepad.com/pondering jt23

    “If I were still teaching history, I’d take my students into the library for each test and say, “Answer my questions — with the knowledge you can find here.”

    Yes. simply: yes. That is (one of two of) the skill we’re looking for when we interview employees now. Can you communicate? Can you find answers that help you do your job effectively? If the answer to both is Yes, we will seriously consider hiring you. We get very few double Yeses to those questions.

    For our latest hire, the single thing he said in his interview that got him the job: When asked if he had a good understanding of RSS and ATOM feeds, he said, “No, but I will figure it out. Whatever it is you need, I’ll figure it out.” He was right — and he’s worth every 2 cents we’ve paid him.

  • http://schoolof.info/infomancy infomancy

    I had a great conversation about this with some other librarians at AASL. My “flip” answer was that if someone could photograh a test with their cell phone or “give away the answers” then the teacher was at fault for poor assessment design. When the answer is “A” or “1492″ or “Colombus” then I think it is pretty easy to identify the problem. If, though, the question is “Share a personal experience from your life that has given you a deeper understanding of Christopher Colombus’ interactions with the indegenous population of the new world.” Well, then you have to know not only how Colombus acted, but when he acted, what the socio-economic norms of the day were, and why those norms still exist. New Orleans anyone?

  • http://www.doug-johnson.com Dougj

    Infomancy (Hi, Chris) in comment 2 is exactly on the right track when it comes to battling this sort of “cheating.” A couple observations:

    1. Good teachers let kids know what will be on the test or what will be expected of them if there is a performance assessment. Period. Kids should not have to be either mind-readers or cheaters to know what they are expected to know.
    2. As Chris suggests, some form of personal response combined with an expectation of application, high ordered thinking skills and creativity will make tests cheat-proof.

    I’ve been doing a bunch of thinking about making research assignments LPP – Low Probability of Plagiarism (see Plagiarism-Proofing Assignments, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85, No. 07 (March 2004). These strategies can and should be extended to testing as well.

    The tools whether cameras, blogs, text messaging, term paper download sites etc will only become more numerous and sophisticated. Our feeble attempts to ban technologies by kids is like putting one’s finger in a dike. We as teachers need to change the way we do business, I’m afraid.

    All the best,


  • dthomas96

    “My “flip” answer was that if someone could photograh a test with their cell phone or “give away the answers” then the teacher was at fault for poor assessment design. When the answer is “A” or “1492″ or “Colombus” then I think it is pretty easy to identify the problem.”

    I DO understand the premise behind this statement. I am struggling to convert my Civics curriculum to fit the mold that we are in agreement is the best way. But the EOC will contain those answers that are A,B,C, or D. So is it beneficial for students to take tests that require high levels of thought only to be faced with a MC test that will count 25% of their grade? Just curious as to what the response is to this question.

    Also, it would seem that in posing a question such as the one stated about Columbus in comment two, that the difficulty from the teacher’s standpoint would be to leave any political bias out of the questioning or assistance with answers. After all, as I’m sure we agree, it is the student’s thoughts that we’re after.

  • dthomas96

    Sorry to double dip on your blog. I do find your theories fascinating. I went home tonight, however, thinking about this particular blog and the new theories of information. With all of the information out there, the information itself is becoming irrelevant… Am I overstating the position?

    I wonder that, because I was thinking of my own knowledge base. And yes, I think it is vital that I am able to locate additional information and understand, first whether the new info is reliabe, and second where the info fits in with pre-existing knowledge. But I would have much less success if my knowledge base wasn’t already fairly well established. I think that there is some arguement to be made that knowledge, for knowledge’s sake, (like the old schoolers) has its place. I’m not sure where the line is crossed when a student becomes independent enough to understand where to find the additional info and how and for what purposes, etc, but I’m just not sure that it’s with my 15 year old Civics students.

    Please, understand I’m not trying to make excuses. Perhaps it’s just that we have to start somewhere. Perhaps I’m completely off base. I do operate in the EOC driven classroom with students who are ill prepared to think too deeply….


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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